Tiger Woods is the 3-to-1 favorite to pick up his fifth green jacket this week at Augusta National. Woods has already won three times in five PGA Tour starts this season. But he hasn't won the Masters since 2005 and hasn't won a major since the '08 U.S. Open. Here are three players who could steal the show.
Best finish:Won in 2004, '06,'10
April 15, 2013
Despite his recent dominance, Woods does not deserve to be the Masters favorite. Not as long as Phil Mickelson is still going strong. Over the last decade Lefty has supplanted Tiger as the king of Augusta, winning three green jackets to Woods's one. The waning of Woods's dominance coincides with Augusta National's "Tiger-proofing." On a longer, tighter, more penal test, Tiger's wild driving has become ever more costly, and even as he has piled up wins lately, he remains visibly uncomfortable playing a draw with his driver, which is a necessity on Augusta's 2nd, 5th, 9th, 10th and 13th. On those crucial holes Mickelson has the luxury of playing a more reliable, low-risk fade. (It's not an accident that lefties have won five of the last 10 Masters.) As Woods has entered his mid-30s, he has increasingly looked spooked on Augusta's greens. Mickelson, 42, putts them like a carefree kid. Because of his desire to spend time with his family and build a business empire, and perhaps because of the effects of his psoriatic arthritis, Mickelson will never again be a weekly force on Tour. But when he is inspired he can still be deadly. And no tournament inspires Mickelson like the Masters.
Best finish:Second in 2012
Why Oosty? Everybody gets tight down the stretch, and there's Oosthuizen, making a swing that doesn't ever seem to go bad, without a care in the world. (The swing, the way he keeps his arms and body connected, reminds me of Ian Woosnam, the 1991 winner.) He's under the radar (that's good at any major), he has been there before (Tiger will tell you how helpful that is)—and he just doesn't care, or at least not too much (that's the most helpful thing of all). Plus, guys who win the British Open at St. Andrews, as Oosthuizen did in 2010 when he romped by seven, tend to become legendary figures in the game. Oosty's not there yet, but give him time. He hits it long enough to easily reach three of the par-5s—numbers 2, 13 and 15—in two, so he's playing a par-69 course. Around the greens Oosty hits his chip shots low and long, which is the ideal way to handle those supertight Augusta National lies (RIP, Seve). He's a no-fuss putter who's not going to freeze over a tricky one. Oosthuizen is 30, is built like Hogan and has a swing from God. What's not to like?
Best finish:T-5 in 2007
He shares a swing coach with Woods, but Justin Rose is unlike Tiger in many ways. Chief among them: Rose reminds us that as much as we think we're going to win an Olympic gold medal and then take the swimming lessons, success is more often a matter of baby steps. That's how England's Rose has climbed to third in the World Ranking, and it's partly why I think he'll win this Masters. Nick Faldo was 31 when he won the first of his three green jackets, in 1989. Rose, 32, held the first- and second-round leads at the 2004 Masters only to falter on the weekend and finish 22nd. He was tied for the first-round lead in '07 and hung around for a fifth-place tie. Better! He was tied for the first-round lead again in '08, but he dropped to 36th (never mind). Only over the last three years has Rose come into full flower, with four wins on Tour. He closed the Euro tour season with a final-round 62 to finish second to Rory McIlroy in Dubai. Rose's results in 2013—T-4 at the Honda, T-8 at the WGC Cadillac Classic, runner-up at the Arnold Palmer Invitational—have been trophy-free, but during the third round at Bay Hill, NBC's Johnny Miller made him a near lock at Augusta. "He hasn't learned how to be good in the clutch yet," Miller said. Yep, that should do it; time to fit Rose for a green jacket.